Public policy refers to what issues governments act on. Individual states face different issues, and in conjunction with the federal government choose how they individually will handle these issues. There are several areas of public policy that affect us all in our states and local communities.
All states provide free public education for grades K-12. Education is free in the sense that students do not have to pay to attend. Attendance is mandatory in all states up to a certain age level. In each state, education policy is made by a state board of education. Besides state boards of education, education policy is shaped by parents’ groups, teachers’ unions and groups, and political parties.
Taxpayers financially support public education primarily through local property taxes and state monies. The state/local formula for expenditures differs from state to state. Spending for education, including both K-12 and higher education, makes up the largest average share of state budgets, about 27 percent on average (2013 figures).
According to the U. S. Bureau of the Census, Texas ranks below the national average in K-12 education funding for 2012-2013 ($8275 per student v. $10,938, national average). In 2014-2015, 28 percent of the Texas state budget was spent on primary and secondary education. Although percentages vary over time, it is clear that today a higher proportion comes from local property taxes.
Basing most education funding on local property taxes means that school districts in poorer communities struggle to provide good education. Following a series of lawsuits beginning in the federal courts in the 1970’s and the state courts in the 1980’s, the Texas state courts have ruled that the Texas Constitution – which requires an efficient system of public education and a state equal protection clause – requires a degree of equalization. This was eventually accomplished through the so-called Robin Hood plan, where some of the revenues collected by richer districts were redistributed to poorer districts. Today the issues continue to be both overall funding and equalization requirements throughout the state.
All states face education issues including improving teacher qualifications, more testing requirements, and setting higher standards of student performance.
*Testing: the federal law No Child Left Behind Act (2001) which requires that all public schools receiving federal monies for K-12 education provide evidence of student achievement and give a standardized test to all students and set clear standards for qualified teachers.The increased demand of state and federal testing has resulted in criticism of teachers’ “teaching to the test” rather than addressing individual student needs.
In Texas, the standardized test is now the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) (www.tea.state.tx.us).
*School vouchers, or the provision of state money to families wanting to send their children to private schools – upheld by the Supreme Court in 2002
*Charter schools, or private K-12 schools which also receive money from the state but do not have to meet some of the state rules and regulations
*Curriculum, including what to teach in controversial issues like evolution and sex education
*And for higher public education, whether state funding should increase or whether students and families should bear more of the cost through tuition hikes
Terms and Ideas
Texas per student funding and ranking
Texas and the Robin Hood plan
Ways states and schools have tried to improve their educational systems
No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2001)
State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR)